Great Film Directors: Akira Kurosawa

Seven Samurai poster

Another of those memes on Facebook, just a little thing to get people talking about their favourite directors and pay homage. Dominick DiGregorio assigned me Akira Kurosawa, that’s a true friend!

So four things I have to say: (1) Akira Kurosawa was a master of his art, incredibly creative and perfectionist, who influenced the film medium so much that every time I (re-)watch one of his movies I feel I’m understanding more about the development of cinema in the mid-to-late 20th century. (2) He made 30 movies and I have not seen nearly enough of them. (3) Every one I’ve seen, though, has been well worth it. (4) My favourite is Seven Samurai (1954), it’s one of those movies which I never get tired of, along with Casablanca, Amadeus, or The Good, The Bad and the Ugly.



First Look: The Musketeers

The Musketeers (BBC series)
So, mini-review for the new BBC series “The Musketeers,” one episode in.

I liked the cinematography, the costumes, the editing, the direction, and most of the casting except for d’Artagnan and Athos (good actors, but not the right ones for the characters.) I sort of liked the music, meaning I liked the composition, arrangements, and execution well enough but I didn’t really like the way it was used; however, that’s a minor point.

But I didn’t like the writing.

I don’t mean the fact that it doesn’t follow Alexandre Dumas’s book; I’m not a stickler, and I greatly enjoy some bold adaptations and re-imaginings of old favourites like Sherlock, Elementary, Much Ado About Nothing, etc. I don’t even mind the historical inaccuracies like the accuracy and readiness of firearms or Milady sporting an off-the-shoulder dress; Dumas himself played fast and loose with historical accuracy.

But I just could not understand why one would change the story so much if it wasn’t to bring something that would work better, not worse, on screen. The story lacked the zest of the original book in the places that captured my heart long ago: d’Artagnan’s quips and wit, Athos’ allure and mystery, Aramis’ unflappable roguishness. (Porthos was done right, I’ll grant that.) The characters did not intrigue me and of all the reasons I will watch the second episode, all are in spite of the writing.

Edit: I thought the casting of Howard Charles as Porthos was the most brilliant thing in the entire show. Not only was he genuinely great, capturing the character, but as a mixed-race man he stands in for Alexandre Dumas himself, and that’s wonderful.

Fiasco: Bravazzo – The Gazpacho Legacy

Bravazzo: coverThis weekend I sat down with five friends to play Fiasco; since the game is for 2-5 players, Edmund was kind enough to act as facilitator for the rest of us. We played Pete Douglas’ free playset “Bravazzo”:

Bravazzo! is set in the Italian city-state of Ferrara in 1435 at the dawning of the Renaissance. It fuses together the vain ambitions of the nobility, the desperate brutality of the peasantry, the venal profiteering of the merchants, and the mystical corruption of the priesthood in a con-fuse-ion of double-dealing, back-stabbing, empire building, and courtly intrigue at a time when the Reason of Man was slowly emerging from the darkness of the Middle Ages. Players will assume the roles of corrupt bishops, murderous nobility, ambitious bankers, pious priests, desperate brigands, virginal maidens, and coarse peasants, in a sordid medieval fiasco.

The Cast

We set up the following characters: Father Benedetti (Steve W.), confessor to the rich and powerful.

  • Relationship: He and François were related but didn’t know it
  • Object: A pit filled with stakes and lime.

François de la Porte (Paul), spy and duellist.

  • Relationship: He was the spy, Lady Armida was the spymaster.
  • Need: To win renown as a great duellist.

Lady Armida di Aramonte de Firenze (Maureen), artist and spy master.

  • Relationship: She was the genius artist, Count Luigi was her patron.
  • Object: Letter of excommunication.

Count Luigi Bacciagalupi (Steve P.), noble dilettante.

  • Relationship: He and Contessa Teresa were rivals at court, vying for power and land from the Duke of Ferrara.
  • Location: The Hall of Games at the Castello Estense.

Contessa Teresa de Sinterra de Cavole (Sophie—that’s me), schemer always purporting to be acting on behalf of a husband never seen.

Overview: Strange Tales of the Century

Strange Tales of the Century: coverMy replacement Kindle has arrived so I picked up my e-reading list where I had left it off, which included Jess Nevins’ Strange Tales of the Century (Evil Hat Productions). This book is just stunning; I suspect the reason we have heard so little about it is that it’s overwhelming with goodness.

As publisher Fred Hicks described during the Fate Core Kickstarter funding campaign when STotC became a stretch goal, what was planned to be a 60,000- to 70,000-word resource turned into a 200,000-word tome! The sheer amount of material is staggering and even intimidating when it’s time to review the book.

The Author

Author Jess Nevins is both an über geek by inclination (I say this with a sense of fellowship!) and a research librarian by profession, so he collects amazing stacks of fascinating resources which he shares generously. I first became acquainted with him and his work when he was creating lavish annotations to comic book series I was fond of, like Alan Moore and Gene Ha’s Top Ten, Alan Moore and Kevin O’Neil’s League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, etc. Jess would research the rich subtext and allusions, and share his notes online. When he first started publishing some of this material in book form, I was delighted that more people would get access to his clever work.

With his long-standing love of pulp and encyclopedic knowledge of the vintage years of the genre, he has written many fascinating articles on the hidden treasures of the genre, dispelling some of the clichés we have come to associate with pulp literature—particularly the notion that pulp lacked diversity. So Jess was the perfect person to write Strange Tales of the Century for Evil Hat, a resource book to expand the scope of their best-seller game Spirit of the Century. Continue reading “Overview: Strange Tales of the Century”

Do: Fate of the Flying Temple — Character sheet

Do-Fate-BannerI love you all, you know I do. And because I love you, I’m going to share the character sheet I just whipped together for this weekend’s playtest of Do: Fate of the Flying Temple.

But because I love you, I also respect you, so I must be truthful with you: I didn’t actually create this for you. I created it in the hope that it would be fun and helpful for my players, especially kids. 🙂

So here we are: if you want the PDF, click here; if you want the JPEG version, click on the image below. Fellow playtesters, feel free to use as needed; and fans who can’t wait for the game to come out and just want to create your own hack: Have at!

Character sheet for Do: Fate of the Flying Temple

Do: Fate of the Flying Temple — Playtest document is in!

Do-Fate-BannerYesterday, I received the playtest document for Do: Fate of the Flying Temple, which will be one of the final stretch goals from Evil Hat Productions’ Kickstarter campaign for Fate Core.

Here is the official pitch for the game:

In Do: Fate of the Flying Temple, the Flying Temple has mysteriously drifted away from its home in the center of the sky. It’s up to the Pilgrims to explore the worlds of Do to uncover the mystery. Along the way, they must raise a young dragon left behind after the temple’s disappearance.

This game is intended to be friendly to family, kids, and new gamers without dumbing things down. Its inspirations include Avatar: The Last Airbender, The Little Prince, and How to Train Your Dragon. It will be written by Mark Diaz Truman using the Fate Accelerated system and the setting from Daniel Solis’ lovely storytelling game, Do: Pilgrims of the Flying Temple.

The playtest document is not the the full book that will be released later this year, but a short and sweet Fate Accelerated hack to play in the setting of the original story game, with simple but elegant additions. Most prominently, the Pilgrims (player characters) soon find themselves with a baby dragon to raise, and the dragon is treated as a sort of communal character thanks to the Fate Fractal, with everyone contributing dragon aspects a bit like group vehicles or organizations in Fate Core.

The dragon acts, changes, and grows to reflect the lessons learned with the Pilgrims; in this way, the GM gets to “show them what they did” to borrow the expression Elizabeth Sampat uses in her own game Blowback. I find this is always useful in role-playing games: convey to the players the changes their characters have effected on the game world. Here, the dragon becomes an embodiment of these changes, for good or ill. If the Pilgrims are careless, arbitrary, or unkind then their dragon will learn this behaviour from them and reflect it—resulting in consequences which the Pilgrims will have to deal with.

The other simple but useful refinement to FAE is instructions for the use of campaign and adventure aspects suggested by the fiction. Letters keep arriving for the Pilgrims, requesting help, and each letter suggests some temporary aspects. With the playtest rules came one of three sample letters to the Flying Temple (I believe these letters were randomly assigned to the 40 or so playtesters.) Ours is “The Worlds Collide” by Colin Fredericks (found on p. 34 in Do: Pilgrims of the Flying Temple.)

Based on what I’m seeing, I expect that the full book will need to offer a good deal of advice to GMs on how to plan and run adventures based on letters to the Pilgrims. With any luck, this would be a useful feature for all Fate GMs, especially if helps with improvisation.

Barring surprises, I will be trying this adventure with a small group this weekend.

Pilgrims of the Flying Temple

Images by Liz Radtke, first created for Do: Pilgrims of the Flying Temple. Used without permission, no copyright challenge intended.

Fate Adventure Worksheet

1-page_Adventure_templateIn my previous post I talked about building an adventure for the War of Ashes RPG and I used a sample form I put together for the purpose. A number of people have asked me for a blank version they could use, so here is the 1-page_Adventure_template (PDF.) If you prefer a JPEG version, click on the thumbnail instead. I’ll probably be tinkering with it some more, but it’s good enough to use.

Suggestions for improvement are welcomed!

War of Ashes RPG: Adventures


I’m wrapping up details of the War of Ashes RPG for Evil Hat Productions.  The draft is being improved by editor Karen Twelves, and will need three main things after this: (1) playtesting, which will lead to edits; (2) a short section on converting to and from other games bas on the War of Ashes setting; and (3) the introduction and conclusion (I always write those last.)

In the mean time, I’m working on the appendices: sample characters, worksheets, cheat sheets, etc. The main item I still have work on is a short collection of one-page adventures and a step-by-step demonstration of how to create these. I’m using Ryan M. Danks’ Fractal Adventure method, with kind permission. I already have a chunk of writing on this in the draft and I suspect I won’t have the word space to expand much more, but I wanted to show every step and here is as good a place as any.

Brace yourselves for a long post. It’s also structured a little oddly because I’m skipping some context material; bear with me, it flows more smoothly in the book.

Example: Creating an Adventure

The Mask of Betrayal: Problem and Story Questions

Because Iva has the aspect Sponsored by the Stone-Seekers and Rustica has Owes Valius Nummus a Favor, it implies that their patrons have their own agendas. Therefore, Iva and Rustica both agreeing to find the same Ancient artifact, the Mask of Kuldarus, and bring it back to their respective sponsors would probably be a big problem for them. Continue reading “War of Ashes RPG: Adventures”

Open Source Rocks

Open Source Initiative logoToday I want to sing the praises of open source shareware! It’s not just make-do, cheapie versions of “real” (read: expensive and branded to the gills) software—on the contrary. A lot of software that is open source and available on pay-what-you-want or free basis is better than just about anything you can get unless you go for expensive professional editions. I want to spread the word about a few of my favourites, particularly since I have recently received a number of questions on how I create some of the resources I’ve shared here.

LibreOffice logoI just wrote a book; LibreOffice handled a 150-pages, 60k words document without any hassles. LibreOffice is a free and effective alternative to the Microsoft Office Suite, and it although it is originally forked off Open Office, it immediately beat the pants off its predecessor then kept on getting better. As a bonus, it’s also the non-Microsoft suite that has provided me with the best compatibility with MS Office, which is important when you collaborate with others (in particular, better than Open Office and Google Drive.)

Calibre logoCalibre allows me to organize, read, extract, convert, and create e-books so I can read my reference material in the handiest way and share my results. All those free e-books I’ve produced in recent years, like convention programs and role-playing game material were made thanks to Calibre. Even better, creator Kovid Goyal frequently releases updates with new, wonderful features, and the community of fans also provides useful plug-ins. If you use e-books on any device, you should have Calibre to manage your library because there is simply no commercial product that compares.

[Edit: It rocks even harder when you start using it as a server and connect your devices via wireless.]

GIMP logoGIMP, the GNU Image Manipulation Program, is a handy alternative to Adobe PhotoShop or Corel PainShop Pro and has also vastly improved over the years  from its rickety early years. An active community also creates lots of useful plug-ins to extend the core program’s capabilities for image editing, free-form drawing and digital painting, photo-montages, converting between different image formats, map-making, etc.. The only thing I dislike about it is its name, because every time it’s mentioned in conversation in front of a friend of mine who uses a wheelchair, I can see her twitch as if she’d just been slapped. I wish someone had chosen a different name, but it’s been around for 18 years now so it’s difficult to get enough momentum for change.

Scribus logoScribus is a desktop publishing program that lets you create well laid-out, visually attractive documents. If you can’t afford a professional product like QuarkXPress or Adobe InDesign, Scribus is a much more powerful tool than consumer- or home-level desktop publishers like MS Publisher. It does have a learning curve, precisely because it can do so much more, and the support community is enthusiastic but small. I’ve used it to lay out magazine-style convention programs, character sheets, PDF e-books, and much more. Heck, I even use it to fill forms, now that I’m familiar with it workings.

MyPaint logoMyPaint is a wonderfully light art application that works best with a tablet and stylus, and lets you draw or paint “realistically.” I love the way you can make the interface disappear and work as if you screen was a canvas, “dipping” your brushes in the colours to paint; it feels very natural. In addition, you canvas is infinite and you can resize as you go. I’ve described how handy it is for me to be able to do digital art; I’ve used MyPaint for all sorts of art, from ink drawing-style to more painterly.

lyx[Edit: LyX is a document processor based on LaTeX. It comes with a well-designed graphical interface and had a ton of powerful features that allow the user to handle large, complex documents like academic articles, theses, and books. I would not use it to design a game book, but it’s great for a book manuscript, for example. Lots of useful support and documentation available too.]

Finally, these are not creative tools per se but I’m a fan of the Firefox Web browser and the Linux operating system, especially in its Ubuntu build.

Do: Fate of the Flying Temple — Flying in soon!

Do-Fate-BannerI’m looking forward to running playtest games for Do: Fate of the Flying Temple. For those who are not familiar with the title, this is one of the final stretch goals from the incredibly successful Kickstarter funding campaign which Evil Hat Productions ran for Fate Core back in January 2013. The beta playtest document will be sent to playtesters in a few days, and I can’t wait.

Here is the official pitch for the game:

In Do: Fate of the Flying Temple, the Flying Temple has mysteriously drifted away from its home in the center of the sky. It’s up to the Pilgrims to explore the worlds of Do to uncover the mystery. Along the way, they must raise a young dragon left behind after the temple’s disappearance.

This game is intended to be friendly to family, kids, and new gamers without dumbing things down. Its inspirations include Avatar: The Last Airbender, The Little Prince, and How to Train Your Dragon. It will use the Fate Accelerated system and the setting from Daniel Solis’ lovely storytelling game, Do: Pilgrims of the Flying Temple.

In the latter, the players took the roles of Pilgrims of the Flying Temple sent to answer requests for help. I had the pleasure and pride of supplying one of the letters for the core book back in 2008 or so when it was being designed. I have played this game with many groups of children and they always seem to enjoy it very much, so expect the response to the Fate-based sequel to go well, and of course the Fate Accelerated system is solid.

I’ll report in a few days when I have my grubby mitts on a playtest copy. Thankfully, Evil Hat Productions believe in transparency and encourages playtesters to share their observations.